A request from a group of students - the Alexandria Area High School Democrats - to meet with state Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, to discuss legislative issues triggered a Twitter exchange that went viral over the weekend.
Franson declined the group's request, tweeting that it was "not a legislator's duty to meet with a partisan Democrat group."
In one exchange, Franson tweeted, "I don't meet with partisan groups in my office - besides, isn't your group actively campaigning against me? One of your members is soliciting funds for my opponent."
The student group responded by saying, "Just because we are of different parties doesn't mean we shouldn't meet and talk out our differences. We actually think that's necessary, regardless of what campaign some of our members are on! We are constituents who have concerns."
Franson replied, "AAHS Dems is a partisan group. Thanks for playing."
As of Monday morning, the topic generated more than 200,000 interactions on Twitter, which the student group says was not their intention. Most of the comments were negative, blasting Franson for not wanting to meet with the students.
"It ended up blowing up with others making comments - we didn't expect that at all," said Emma Reilly, a co-founder of the student group of about 15 members that was formed about a year ago. "We didn't want it to get as big as it did."
Reilly, who is a senior, said the main issues the group wanted to talk to Franson about were college tuition rates and climate change.
At first, Reilly said the students tried to contact Franson by phone and made about 10 calls. "We thought we did it rightly and politely," she said. But after Franson declined a meeting, the group decided to share its frustration on Twitter.
In an interview with the Echo Press Monday afternoon, Franson said she initially told the students that they could talk to her while she was at Elden's Fresh Foods last Friday collecting food and supplies for the homeless. She said the time didn't fit with the students' schedules.
Franson said she also offered to meet individually with a few of the students over coffee. Reilly said she was never made aware of a coffee invitation.
Franson said meeting with a partisan group - especially one that supports her opponent, Gail Kulp - in a non-public setting wouldn't serve any purpose.
"I don't meet with partisan groups," she said. "If the Douglas County Democrats wanted to meet with me, I'd tell them 'no' too."
Franson said that she was willing to meet with the students individually, but since they are minors, they would have to have a parent or guardian accompany them, she said.
"In today's day and age with so many sexual harassment claims being made, it isn't appropriate," she said.
The fact that they are minors, Franson said, puts her at a disadvantage because anything she says to defend herself could come across as bullying or disliking children, which does not reflect who she is.
Meanwhile, Franson said she's being bombarded with hate-filled emails, voicemails and social media comments from out-of-town people or a "politically charged group that's out for blood."
Franson said she applauds the students for being politically active and hopes the school district will use the Twitter incident as a teaching opportunity on how young people should interact with legislators and how to treat each other on social media.
The Alexandria Area High School Democrats say they are hopeful that they can still arrange a meeting with Franson.
"We are very frustrated," Reilly said. "We just wanted to set up a meeting."